Possessive Structures (У меня есть... | I have..., and the others)

There are two major ways to say "I have..." in Russian: у меня есть... and у меня... And the difference between them is that... well, that's when it gets a little bit tricky. First, let's look at some basic examples:

у + the owner (in the genitive case) + есть + something or someone that one has (in the nominative case)
  • У меня есть машина. | I have a car.
  • У него есть дети? | Does he have children?
у + the owner (in the genitive case) + something or someone that one has (in the nominative case)
  • У меня много денег. | I have a lot of money.
  • У меня прекрасная жена. | I have an amazing wife.
Now let's look at the first example a little bit closer.
  • У меня есть машина.
Машина is in the nominative case because it is the subject of the sentence. After the preposition у nouns, pronouns and adjectives are always the genitive case. So the literal translation would be something like "at me, there is a car", meaning "in my possession, there is a car". Now let's move to a trickier part. When we need the word есть and when we don't need it.

First, if you ask a question, there's a clear difference:
  • У тебя есть телефон? | Do you have a phone?
    • Да, есть. | Yes, I do.
    • Нет, нету. | No, I don't

  • Телефон у тебя? = У тебя телефон? | Do you have the phone? (Meaning, is it you who have the phone?)
    • Да, у меня. | Yes.
    • Нет, не у меня. | No, not me.
Second, if you ask about the quality or quantity of something, then you don't need the word есть. Compare this:
  • У меня быстрая машина. | My car is fast.
  • У меня есть быстрая машина. | I have a fast car.
As you can see, in the first sentence у меня means "my" rather than "I have". In the second sentence we emphasize the fact that we do have a fast car. Also, compare this:
    - У тебя есть девушка? | - Do you have a girlfriend?
    - Да, у меня есть девушка. | - Yes, I have a girlfriend
    - У тебя красивая девушка? | - Is your girlfriend beautiful? (By asking this we already know that he has a girlfriend.)
    - Да, у меня красивая девушка. | - Yes, my girlfriend is beautiful.
If you asked У тебя есть красивая девушка?, it would mean something like "Do you have a beautiful girlfriend?" Like among all the girlfriends that you have, is there a beautiful one? Another example:
    - У меня есть собака. Я могу поселиться в гостинице с ней? | I have a dog. Can I stay at your hotel with it?
    - А у вас большая собака? | Is your dog big?
    - Нет, у меня маленькая собака. | No, my dog is small.
So if you ask "У вас большая собака?", it means that you already know that the person you're talking to has a dog, and you're asking him how big it is. Now look at this example conversation and compare:
    (в приюте для животных | in an animal shelter)
    - У вас есть большие собаки? | Do you have big dogs?
    - Да, у нас есть собаки любых размеров. | Yes, we have dogs of any size.
Another example:
    (в гостинице | in a hotel)
    - У вас есть большой номер? | Do you have a big room? (разговаривая с администратором | talking to a receptionist)
    - У вас большой номер? | Is your room big? (разговаривая с другим гостем | talking to another guest)
Another example:
    - Сколько у машины колёс? | How many wheels does a car have? (We already know that cars have wheels.)
    - У машины обычно четыре колеса. | A car usually has four wheels.
    - Сколько у тебя с собой денег? | How much money do you have on you? (We know that he has some)
    - У меня с собой только 100 рублей. | I have only 100 rubles on me.
Third, if you ask if it is this person who has something in particular, then you don't need the word есть. Compare this:
    - У тебя есть с собой деньги? | Do you have any money on you? (We don't know if he has any.)
    - Да, есть, а что? | Yeah, I do, why?

    - Деньги у тебя? | Do YOU have the money? (We're asking if it's him who has the money.)
    - Да, у меня. | Yes.

    - У тебя деньги с собой? | Do you have the money on you? (We know what particular money we're talking about.)
    - Да, с собой. | Yes.
Look at how the emphasis, the order, and the word "есть" change the meaning:
    - У меня есть МАШИНА. | I have a car.

    - Если хочешь, я подарю тебе машину. | If you want, as a present, I'll give you a car.
    - У меня ЕСТЬ машина. Мне не нужна вторая. | I do have a car. I don't need a second one.

    - У КОГО машина? | Who has the car?
    - Машина у МЕНЯ. (more common) = У МЕНЯ машина. | I have the car. (Meaning it's me who have the car.)

    - Я не могу пересесь океан: у меня МАШИНА, а не корабль. | I can't get across the ocean, I have a car, not a ship.
When talking about medical conditions, we normally don't use the word есть:
  • У Кати аллергия на пыль. | Katya has dust allergy.
  • У меня плохое зрение. | I have bad eyesight.
There're some expressions in which it's typical to use or not to use есть.
  • У меня для тебя кое-что есть. | I have something for you.
  • У меня (есть) вопрос. | I have a question.



So that was the more difficult part. The rest is pretty straightforward. First, to say that someone or something doesn't have something (or anything), use this structure:

у + the owner (in the genitive case) + нет + something or someone that one doesn't not have (in the genitive case)

Some examples:
  • У меня нет машины. | I don't have a car.
  • У моей дочери нет друзей. | My daughter doesn't have any friends.
  • У меня нет на это времени. | I don't have time for this.
  • У него ничего нет. | He doesn't have anything.
To say that you had something (or anything), use this structure:

у + the owner (in the genitive case) + был, была, было, были + something or someone that one had (in the nominative case)

Notice, that the word был should be in the agreement with the object (gender and number). Some examples:
  • У меня была мечта стать лучшим архитектором в мире. | I had a dream of becoming the best architect in the world.
  • В детстве у меня были очень длинные волосы. | As a child, I had really long hair.
  • У меня было странное чувство. | I had a strange feeling.
  • В школе у меня был очень хороший друг. | I had a very good friend in school.
To say that you didn't have something (or anything), use this structure:

у + the owner (in the genitive case) + не было + something or someone that one didn't have (in the genitive case)

Notice, that no matter what gender or number the object is, we use only the word было in this particular form and we can't omit it. Some examples:
  • У меня никогда не было девушки. | I've never had a girlfriend.
  • У меня не было никакого желания начинать всё сначала. | I didn't have any desire to start it all over again.
  • На тот момент у меня ещё не было достаточно опыта. | At that point I didn't have enough experience.
  • Ещё минуту назад у меня не было никаких проблем. | Just a minute ago I didn't have any problem.
To say that you will have something, use this structure:

у + the owner (in the genitive case) + будет + something or someone that one will have (in the nominative case)

Notice that here we use only the word будет in this particular form and we can't omit it.
  • Когда у меня будет дочка, я назову её Кира. | When I have a daughter, I'll name her Kira.
  • У тебя будет время мне помочь? | Will you have time to help me?
  • В университете у тебя будет много друзей. | You will have a lot of friends in the university.
To say that you will not have something, use this structure:

у + the owner (in the genitive case) + не будет + something or someone that one will not have (in the genitive case)

Notice that here we use only the word будет in this particular form and we can't omit it.
    - Давай пойдём завтра в кино. | Let's go to a movie tomorrow.
    - У меня завтра совсем не будет свободного времени. | I won't have free time tomorrow at all.


To say that something belongs to a person or an object, use this structure:

something or someone that belongs (in the nominative case) + someone to whom or something to what it belongs (in the genitive case)
  • города России | the cities of Russia
  • телефон Алексея | Alexey's phone
  • параметры компьютера | the parameters of the computer


Click here to learn more about the possessive pronouns.
Click here to learn more about the possessive pronoun свой.